Irish boxing travelled to Rome for the 1960 Olympics with a spring in its collective step after finishing in 4th position in the medals table at the 1956 Games.
Five medals had been secured from the last two Olympiads, two silver and three bronze. Confidence was high ahead of the opening bell at the Palazzo dello Sport venue.
But there was no joy for Irish pugilism in the Eternal City as none of the ten-strong squad, Ireland’s biggest ever Olympic boxing panel, medalled.
Bernie Meli, at 20 the youngest member of the team, beat Greek light-welterweight Michail Dememtre in his opening bout, but lost to Bohumil Nemecek of Czechoslovakia, who went on to win gold.
Omagh BC lightweight Danny O’Brien also opened his account with a win, beating Esteban Aguilar from the upcoming boxing nation of Cuba. However, he then went out to the eventual silver medallist, Sandro Lopopolo of Italy, in the next round.
The great Harry Perry, a multiple Irish champion, came unstuck. The Dubliner, appearing in back-to-back Olympics and a bronze medal winner at the 1959 European Championships in Switzerland, dropped a split decision to Korea’s Ki-soo Kim in his opening bout.
Cork’s Paddy Kenny, who sold copies of the Echo on the streets of Leeside, Ando Reddy, Mick Reid and Eamonn McKeon chalked up victories in Rome.
Colin McCoy was beaten in the light-heavyweight class by Finland’s Matti Aho, who was eliminated by Bulgaria’s Petar Stankov in the last-16.
Stankov was subsequently beaten by Zbigniew Pietrzykowski in the last-eight, but the Polish fighter, who saw off the challenge of Italy’s Giulio Saraudi in the semi-finals, had to settle for silver after ending up on the wrong side of a unanimous decision to a charismatic 18-year-old American sensation named Cassius Clay, later to be known as Muhammad Ali.
Clay was one of three American boxers to claim gold medals in Rome, but that wasn’t enough to secure the top spot for the USA in the medals table.
Clay endured a strong challenge from the experienced Pietrzykowski, a three-time Olympic medallist and four-time European Elite champion, in the first round of their 81kg final.
But the Greatest took the second round and dominated the third en route to gold.
According to Thomas Hauser’s critically acclaimed Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times, Clay’s mother, Odessa Grady-Clay, was the granddaughter of Abe Grady who emigrated to the USA from Clare soon after the American Civil War.”
Clay/Ali was made a freeman of Ennis in 2009.
Hosts Italy, with three gold, three silver and one bronze medal, topped the medals table at the 1960 Games.
The Rome Olympiad was the first Olympics to be televised live.
There was a slight change to the scoring system for boxing at the 1960 Olympiad with five judges scoring bouts instead of three.
(Image Ali on the winners podium at Rome 1960)
Ireland at the 1960 Olympics.
Flyweight: Adam McLean (Crown)
Lost to Karimu Young (Nigeria) 1-4
Bantamweight: Paddy Kenny (Cork News Boys & Coventry Irish)
Beat Emile Anner (Switzerland) 5-0
Lost to Jerry Armstrong (USA) 2-3
Featherweight: Ando Reddy (Sandymount)
Beat Andre Juncker (France) 3-2
Lost to Abel Bekker (Rhodesia) 0-5
Lightweight: Danny O’Brien (Omagh)
Beat Esteban Aguilar (Cuba) 5-0
Lost to eventual silver medallist Sandro Lopopolo (Italy) 0-5
Light-welterweight: Bernie Meli (Immaculata)
Beat Michail Demetre (Greece) 5-0
Lost to eventual gold medallist Bohumil Nemecek (Czechoslovakia) 0-5
Welterweight: Harry Perry (British Rail)
Lost to Ki-soo Kim (Korea) 2-3
Light-middleweight: Mick Reid (Crumlin)
Beat Helio Crescencio (Brazil) 4-1
Lost to Henryk Dampe (Poland) 0-5
Middleweight: Eamonn McKeon (Crumlin)
Beat Mohammed Ben Gandoubi (Tunisia) 5-0
Lost to Frederik van Rooyen (South Africa) 0-5
Light-heavyweight: Colin McCoy (Kilcullen)
Lost to Matti Aho (Finland) 1-4
Heavyweight: Joe Casey (Arbour Hill)
Lost to Obrad Sretenovic (Yugoslavia) 0-5